Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
World Vision has changed their policy for employees: “Christian” couples in same-sex “marriages” are now allowed to be employees. Though sexual abstinence outside of marriage is still policy, marriage is no longer defined as between a man and a woman.
Richard Stearns, United States president of World Vision, “asserts that the ‘very narrow policy change’ should be viewed by others as ‘symbolic not of compromise but of [Christian] unity.’ He even hopes it will inspire unity elsewhere among Christians.”
It is amazing that Stearns refers to this change as “very narrow.” Either he does not grasp the magnitude of this moral issue, or he is downplaying its importance. Though it addresses one change, this change is major and strikes at the heart of the Bible and its authority.
With this “very narrow” change, World Vision claims that they will be able to live above the fray of this moral issue that is “tearing churches apart.” They are taking their cue from legal decisions made in many states and liberal churches, both of which are attempting to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. Though the stated reason may be unity, it comes at the expense of truth, and it will not bring true unity. In a sense, one gets the sense in which one claims “unity, unity, but there is no unity” (a take on Jeremiah’s words of denunciation to prophets and priests who dealt falsely and healed the wound of God’s people lightly claiming “peace, peace, when there is no peace” (Jer 6:14; 8:11)).
In short, World Vision hopes to dodge the division currently "tearing churches apart" over same-sex relationships by solidifying its long-held philosophy as a parachurch organization: to defer to churches and denominations on theological issues, so that it can focus on uniting Christians around serving the poor.
Given that more churches and states are now permitting same-sex marriages (including World Vision's home state of Washington), the issue will join divorce/remarriage, baptism, and female pastors among the theological issues that the massive relief and development organization sits out on the sidelines.
Stearns attempts to downplay this decision.
'It's easy to read a lot more into this decision than is really there,' he said. 'This is not an endorsement of same-sex marriage. We have decided we are not going to get into that debate. Nor is this a rejection of traditional marriage, which we affirm and support.'
'We're not caving to some kind of pressure. We're not on some slippery slope. There is no lawsuit threatening us. There is no employee group lobbying us,' said Stearns. 'This is not us compromising. It is us deferring to the authority of churches and denominations on theological issues. We're an operational arm of the global church, we're not a theological arm of the church.'
Though Stearns is right to distinguish between the church and denominations and the parachurch (though denominations are also a parachurch, though related more directly to the church), it is naïve at best and disingenuous at worst to claim that they are merely an “operational arm” of the church and not a “theological arm” of the church.
There are two major problems. First, parachurches are birthed by the church to serve the church. That means that though they may serve as an operational arm of the church, they are grounded in the theological foundation of the church. Second, by changing this policy and claiming that they do not endorse same-sex “marriage” and that they “affirm and support 'traditional marriage'” simply will not work. This is a theological issue and they have made their beliefs and commitments clear, regardless of the spin that is put on this decision.
Stearns claims the new policy is rooted in the fact that World Vision is a parachurch and is multi-denominational.
‘Denominations disagree on many, many things: on divorce and remarriage, modes of baptism, women in leadership roles in the church, beliefs on evolution, etc.,’ he said. ‘So our practice has always been to defer to the authority and autonomy of local churches and denominational bodies on matters of doctrine that go beyond the Apostles' Creed and our statement of faith. We unite around our [Trinitarian beliefs], and we have always deferred to the local church on these other matters.’
The reason the prohibition existed in the first place? ‘It's kind of a historical issue,’ said Stearns. ‘Same-sex marriage has only been a huge issue in the church in the last decade or so. There used to be much more unity among churches on this issue, and that's changed.’
As you read, Stearns places same-sex “marriage” in the same category as other issues over which Christians have agreed to disagree. This reflects his inability to discern between essential and non-essential matters, and how one goes about discerning what doctrinal matters are in the different categories.
Furthermore, to place this only in the category of being a historical issue, misses some profound issues. Certainly these issues are pressing on us now. And though there is a huge cultural shift of the general populace toward the acceptance of same-sex “marriage,” Evangelicals have not merely affirmed doctrinal matters because they are historical or culturally expedient. They have done so because they are biblical. Once again it is unity that drives this, unity that sought based on present-day historical and cultural consensus. Truth has never been determined that way.
This move truly does reveal that World Vision has a hole in the gospel, which is ironic in that this was the title of Stearn’s book: The Hole in Our Gospel. We now see the answer to his follow up book as well, Filling the Hole in Our Gospel.
Sadly, Stearns and World Vision have moved away from the gospel. Furthermore, they have distanced themselves from the Evangelicals, because the gospel, the evangel, is foundational to Evangelicals.
When I heard this, not only was I deeply disturbed about what this move stated about the gospel, I was grieved for what this move means for the children who are supported by many Evangelicals. Trevin Wax voices the same concern.
Russell Moore has also commented on World Vision’s tragic move away from the gospel.